The Ghetto Underground

Barbara Epstein

in The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780520242425
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520931336 | DOI:
The Ghetto Underground

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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This chapter discusses the emergence of underground movements and groups in the ghettos. Within weeks of the establishment of the Minsk ghetto, secret groups were formed in the ghetto, consisting mostly of Communists and some non-Communists whom they trusted. While many Communists and Komsomol members never participated in the underground in hopes of surviving the war without coming to the attention of the Germans, by August and September 1941, there were four secret groups in the ghetto. These groups eventually became aware of the existence of other underground groups and established contact with each other. During the same period, a similar process was taking place outside the ghetto. And through the fall of 1941, people hoping to engage in resistance began to reach out to like-minded people within the ghetto, within the Russian district, between the two areas, and between each of these areas and forests around Minsk, where partisans were forming. Sometime in October 1941, a Minsk-wide underground organization was established. After this citywide underground was formed, the formerly autonomous secret groups outside and inside the ghettos became part of the defined hierarchical structure. However, at the same time the Minsk underground retained much of its earlier spontaneous and decentralized character. The members of the secret groups who took the opportunities for sabotage, circulating propaganda, and saving the lives of Jews in the ghettos, initiated many of the projects that were sponsored and promoted by the underground leadership. These efforts involved underground members of various groups as well as non-members such as Byelorussians. This support and direction that the underground leadership provided made underground activity more extensive and effective. However, due to the quick growth of the underground group into a mass movement it became vulnerable to German attention and arrests. These arrests severely affected the Russian district but not the ghetto movement due to their rules of conspiracy. In the wake of the large-scale arrests of leading activists, the rank-and-file underground members played a crucial role in sustaining underground activity outside the ghettos and in maintaining connections between the ghetto and the Russian district.

Keywords: underground movements; ghettos; Minsk ghetto; Communists; partisans; secret groups; Minsk underground

Chapter.  16502 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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